Dustin Ackley Slowly Heating Up

Hello all.  I apologize for the break in minor league coverage.  Any of you who follow my site know that I've been laying low for the past few weeks and have been pretty well disconnected from the blogosphere.

Since it's been awhile since the last update I'm going to abandon the previous format and just play it by ear from here on out.  I just haven't had the time (or the desire to make the time, really) to run through every single prospect for these posts.  Here we'll talk about what's going on with Dustin Ackley.

After getting generally good reviews in last season's Arizona Fall League and this year's Spring Training some fans were already penciling Ackley into the big league infield for the second half of the season.  But while most of the focus on Ackley coming into the season was his defense and how he adjusted to playing a new position, his bat provided a nice reality check.  The Southern League is an extremely aggressive landing spot for a new pro-- even the consensus most mature hitter in the draft.

Ackley hit just .147/.289/.227 with few extra base hits during the month of April (90 PAs). The process was sound however.  Scouting reports indicated that there was nothing broken in his swing, and his high pitches per plate appearance and 14.4% walk rate were certainly encouraging.  It seemed as though it was just a matter of time before balls started falling in for Ackley. The adjustment time was certainly understandable for Ackley.

Ackley talked to AOL Fanhouse about these adjustments a few weeks ago: 

"It has definitely been tough, tougher than I thought. You are playing six, seven days a week. There are no outside distractions, no more worrying about classes. Hopefully, I will get this first month under my belt, get adjusted to the changes and start hitting better."

The transition to second base could be another reason why Ackley was off to the slow start.  Says Ackley in the same article:

Ackley continues to spend extra time fielding ground balls, learning the proper angles and knowing where he needs to be positioned when singles turn into doubles and doubles turn into triples. Ackley's also learning the different styles of turning a double play -- the glove work and footwork -- and getting out of harm's way.

"I knew [second base] was going to be a change but I never knew it was going to be that big of a change," Ackley said and smiled.

"It's a big difference, learning all the angles, learning how to take a double play throw from your third baseman, knowing where I need to be on balls to the outfield. Basically, learning any situation. I've come to find out there's a lot of places you need to be and a lot of things you need to learn."

There are certainly reasons to cut Ackley some slack.  He's playing every single day, he's hitting with wood bats, he's facing tougher competition, he's traveling more than he's ever had to, he's away from his native North Carolina for the first time in his life, and so on.  He can handle it, but there were plenty of reasons to keep from panicking. 

Ackley is coming around with the bat.  With some of that adjustment period out of the way and a few subtle mechanical tweaks to his feet he's hitting .279/.426/.419 with 5 multi-hit games and 4 extra base hits (including his first homer of the year) so far in May.  It's not quite the .300/.400/.500 dreams fans were having at draft time but it's progress.  He continues to walk and see a lot of pitches but has been squaring up on and getting more air under the ball and the hits have been falling in.

Defensively, the incoming scouting reports continue to be positive.  He is making progress and the reports indicate that his gaffes are occurring primarily on routine plays rather than finding himself out of position and making stupid plays.  He'll tighten those screws with time.  He's doing a good job of learning the position on the fly and his feel for the game and athleticism should allow him to make up for it plenty.  Ackley is an adequate AA second baseman right now, and there is little reason to believe he can't become an adequate MLB second baseman soon before growing from there.

Ackley is still in line to become a big league leadoff or #2 hitter one day, with the outside chance that he develops enough power during his peak to hit in the middle of the order.  Ackley's patient approach and speed-- he's been rated as high as 70 on the 20-80 scale and has 5 steals on 6 attempts so far this year-- will look awfully nice near the top of the Mariner order a couple years from now.

I wouldn't think that Ackley's timetable has changed much due to the slow start.  He should be looking to crack the starting lineup sometime towards the end of next season and certainly by 2012.  But while Ackley hasn't done anything negative or positive enough to change his timetable, you have to wonder if the performance of Jose Lopez might (with an eye on next season more than this one).  Keep an eye out.

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